In a different world of the same era is a kingdom called Zuwan. It consists of only ten million people, with six distinctly different domains to separate them. In Siho, Anna met Lieutenant Daniel Han of the Andestris Territory who left his home to become a National Guard. Would romance bloom between them, or will each other's lives prevent such a thing from happening?
Chapter Five: His Last Words
Anna arrived in the clinic earlier than normal to find Olivia rummaging furiously through a file cabinet. The drawers had all been pulled out with piles of folders covered the marble floors.
"Anna!" She stood up and grabbed her by the arm. "Help me out!"
"Doctor Carson said he has three patients from last month that was due for appointments, but when I checked the computer database to see who they were, it won't show me their names!"
"But he has a list of these names?" Asked Anna as she looked through the folders.
"Yes, but I don't want to ask him," Olivia's trembled, "he'll scold me if I do."
"What are the check-ups for?"
"Shingles. They didn't have chickenpox at a young age so he wants to double check."
Olivia's eyes were starting to water. She had never handled pressure well.
Anna stood up and grabbed a piece of paper from the counter. Then she started scribbling.
"Here," she handed the piece of paper to Olivia when she was done. "Check their files. They're all Doctor Carson's patients from last month that have denied getting chickenpox when they were children."
Olivia looked at the list, and her mouth opened in shock.
"You're amazing, Anna! Your memory is impeccable." She ran back to the computer and typed the names one by one. A few moments later, she retrieved three of the ten names Anna listed. "Wow. I'd like to have your brain."
Let's switch then, Anna wanted to say, but she shook it off.
"Lucky guess," she said instead.
When she sat down to her seat, she thought about the many times her father tested her skills. In one occasion, he recited an entire chapter of one of his books out loud. Then he let a few hours pass before asking her to recite that same chapter back. Anna didn't think it was hard at all, and she quickly narrated a three hundred-word passage like she was holding the physical book in her hand.
Another occasion is when her father took her to Harry's bookstore for the first time. He pointed to the largest bookshelf in the back of the shop, which had seven rows, each consisting of fifteen books. This one bookshelf was not organized alphabetically or by category, but by Harry's personal preference. The books he liked more, he placed on the top shelf on purpose so only those who are truly interested in them would go through the trouble of going up.
Anna was given the chance to take a quick look of it while her father grabbed the list of the order from Harry.
After disarranging it the best way he can, he called Anna back to the room.
"Father," she remembered saying to him. "I find this activity completely tedious."
But she organized it anyway, and they left as if they hadn't touched a single thing.
"I was such a brat," thought Anna with a smile. Shaking her head to let go of the memory, her mind wandered off to a certain man that she had not seen in three days.
Truth be told, they've barely talked seven days' worth, but she thinks of him almost as if she'd known him longer than that. And now, she wondered if he was safe, wherever he was, doing whatever it is, in a place unknown to her.
Then, the ringing sound coming from the telephone beside her grabbed her attention.
"Hello?" She answered.
"Is this Anna?" A woman replied, her voice shaking and dismally low.
"Mrs. Mcintyre?" Identified Anna. "It's me. Is everything alright?"
"It's Sahl!" She sobbed. "He... he's dead."
Anna rushed out of the clinic and quickly made her way inside the camp's airbase. She ran past the sobbing crowd who had come to retrieve their loved ones, and towards a red-haired woman looking somberly into a zipped-up body bag in front of her.
Quickly, Anna grabbed her by the shoulder and embraced her tightly. Mrs. Mcintyre had always been a jolly old woman who mothered her only son with such care and tenderness, and even to Anna she was so kind. She was the only woman knew to always have a smile on her face, no matter, the obstacle.
Yet, she looked nothing more than an empty doll now.
"They said Sahl is in that thing," said Mrs.Mcintyre as she pointed to the bag. "I need to open it and identify him, but my hands won't move itself."
Anna wiped the tears in her eyes, and she slowly turned towards the body sack they claimed to be holding his body.
She tried to touch the zipper, but her hand quickly moved back. She was afraid, so afraid of what she would see. But she remembered the woman standing behind her, and that gave her the courage to move forward.
She had never seen him look so peaceful.
The creases in his forehead had smoothed, his eyelids shut. Even the muscles in his face and body have come to a still. She touched his cheek, and it felt like ice to her fingers.
Like a young, healthy soldier taking a much-needed nap after an afternoon drill, his long lashes appeared as if it would flutter up any second he feels the presence of a superior around him. His skin, which used to be pasty white, had gradually tanned into a golden brown from training so much outside.
He had grown strong and healthy over the years, so much so that many young women had gone after him many times, but Anna still saw him as the young little Valkondh boy with not enough meat in his body and freckles all over his face.
Now, his chest wouldn't rise up no matter how much time Anna waited. Not a twitch or a spasm. Would sleeping men's chests stop its rising and falling to reach a certain state of peace, that simply breathing air was too much trouble?
For a second, Anna wanted to pretend that he was simply playing a prank on them. That he was in fact, alive, and merely pulling a dumb trick on both Anna and his mother.
But this was Sahl Macintyre, a proud fighter pilot and member of the National Guards Alliance.
To ignore his death meant ignoring what he had been fighting for this whole time. Even if it meant coming back home covered in blood. And dead.
"You did well, Sahl. You did very well." She placed her hand on his chest, said a little prayer and gave him a kiss on his cheek.
Anna stepped back, but her senses tingled when she sensed a familiar scent around the room. It was the smell of fresh firewood and gunpowder, the same scent coming faintly from Sahl's lifeless body. She didn't smell it earlier, which meant it was coming from a living person, someone who had just entered the room.
Anna searched around the room for Mrs. Macintyre, and found her speaking with a soldier who held two envelopes in his hands. They were crinkled and folded, and bathed in his blood.
"It's protocol for soldiers write letters to loved ones when assigned for more dangerous assignments," he said. "This, ma'am, was written for you."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Macintyre softly as she looked down at his hands. "And the other?"
She flipped to the back of the envelope to search for the owner of the second letter. Then, she lifted her finger and pointed in Anna's direction.
"She's over there, with him."
The soldier made his way, his head turning back and forth, until he found Anna standing beside the dead pilot's body. The soldier stood still at once. She thought it was odd at first, but then she felt a sense of comfort when he removed the piece of armor covering his face.
It was a face she recognizes dearly.
And yet, the expression he was making out was indescribable. He looked dumbfounded, almost too stunned, at the sight he was seeing. He struggled to walk towards her, and when he did-
she swore he looked at her with unkind eyes.
"I am Lieutenant Daniel Han from the National Guards Recon Team," he began to speak. "I am sorry for your loss."
"On behalf of Aerial Warfare Pilot Sahl Macintyre, I am here to give you, the owner of this letter, and his last words."
She felt a chill run down her spine. Right now, he was speaking to her as if they were strangers, meeting only for the first time. It felt strange, but something about the way he looked at her and the manner of his speaking that made her uncomfortable.
"Wait. Hold on..."
"-Ms. Elixon," he interrupted. "May I proceed?"
A teardrop fell on the floor. She watched it go down, and only when her face felt hot did she realize it was hers. She couldn't understand what was happening. Never had she expected to see her childhood friend on his way to a casket today, but now she felt like she was losing Daniel too.
But she will never let him have his way. Anna rubbed her eyes quickly and took the letter in his hand.
Then, her eyes landed on his.
She could see him hesitate. Something in his expression changed.
And just like that, he moved forward and pulled her into a tight embrace. She tried to wiggle herself out, to put sense in him, but she never expected him to be so strong. Only once he started speaking did everything make sense.
"If you find her, give her this letter..."
He held her closer.
"...hold her tight and tell her I love her."
Anna found herself sobbing for the first time in two years. The last time she had cried so much was when she heard of her father's disappearance. Sahl had been there all this time. He nurtured her, protected her, cared for her and loved her.
But no matter how much she tried, she could not love him the same.
Her chest tightened, and her throat hurt when she read the words he had written on the back of the envelope.
In his soft, delicate handwriting, he wrote what she could never say to him back.
To the one I love